Within the Middle Eastern Studies Tripos, students are able to combine learning either Arabic, Persian or Hebrew with a modern European language. This option allows you to continue your studies in one European language through the Modern & Medieval Languages Faculty (MML), as you start learning a Middle Eastern language from scratch in FAMES.
One especially popular combination is Arabic and French, which allows students to examine the colonial presence of France in North Africa and other parts of the Middle East. Exploring the puzzle of languages through their distinctive grammars and linguistic histories has led other students to continue their studies of Russian or German alongside Arabic and linguistics, for example. Many students love taking on the challenge of learning languages for their own sake.
"Having spent nine years studying French and Spanish, I saw university as a unique chance to try something new. Applying for an ab initio course can be quite daunting, but the Tripos is tailored to ease you into the murky world of non-Romance languages, and once you overcome the initial hurdles (new alphabet, new sounds, new grammatical concepts) it can be endlessly exciting.
The major benefit of an Asian and Middle Eastern Studies degree, especially when combined with Modern and Medieval Languages (in my case Spanish), is that you can gain exposure to papers from a range of subjects and Faculties. The University may classify you as a linguist but the term is perhaps reductive, as you’ll undoubtedly end up a philosopher, historian, literary critic, translator, interpreter and even ethnographer at some point during your degree. During my four years at Cambridge I’ve taken modules in everything from Latin American cinema to Islamic travel writing, political anthropology to Portuguese modern art. As someone with wide-ranging academic interests, the course afforded me constant opportunities to explore different areas, and build on the other subjects I studied during Part IB (2nd year).
When the time came to choose a Year Abroad destination I was overwhelmed by the sheer number of options - between Arabic-speaking and Spanish-speaking countries, I had a large proportion of the globe to choose from. Eventually I decided on Cairo, hailed as the cultural hub of the Middle East despite its ongoing political and civil unrest. The experience was endlessly exciting, often bizarre and certainly never dull. I managed to get an internship with the Regional Arts team of the British Council, helping facilitate projects across the 17 countries of the Middle East and North Africa, and it was a fantastic opportunity to meet passionate artists, entrepreneurs and social activists from the region. In particular I was tasked with making two documentary films, organizing three ‘Cultural Leadership and Innovation’ conferences in Dubai, Beirut and Cairo and translating a script into Arabic for a collaborative performance project with the National Theatre of Tripoli.
Outside of work, life was a whirlwind of the absurd and the sublime. Cairo is a city that never stops, in fact it rarely pauses for breath, but if you approach it with a bit of gumption it can provide infinite opportunities. Over the 8 months I was there I joined an Arabic band, appeared in a KFC advert, went stargazing in the Sinai, trekked with the Bedouins, scuba-dived in Dahab, learned to train camels, worked as a journalist at the Cairo International Film Festival, founded a book group and took salsa lessons - to name but a few activities! Having feared my interests might be incompatible with Egyptian society, it ended up being one of the most interesting and eye-opening experiences I’ve ever had, and if all goes well I plan to return after graduation.
The Middle East has been at the forefront of global affairs in recent years, and will undoubtedly continue to feature not only in the political sphere, but in international business and culture as well. For me, studying Arabic is a way to engage with these rapidly-changing events as they happen, and feel a part of the action on an entirely different level."
"I am a second year undergraduate studying Arabic in the AMES Faculty, in combination with French in the Modern and Medieval Languages Faculty. After finding out that in combining two languages from two faculties I was setting out to "do two degrees packed into the same time as one", I felt somewhat daunted. However, this combination has allowed the diversity and broadness of study that most other Cambridge degrees could not provide. This year, for instance, I find myself in the library juggling Taha Hussein's autobiography, Al-Ayyam, French linguistics textbooks, and ethnographies of the Middle East. It is rather exciting, after a year of intensively studying the Arabic language, to be let loose on the range of papers the department of Middle Eastern Studies has to offer. Yet, I feel strongly that without having spent those many hours memorising long lists of vocabulary and the seemingly unending rules of Arabic grammar, it would impossible to study effectively, or to any level of deeper understanding, the literature, politics, history, or culture of Arab societies. This ideal is central to degrees in the Middle East Studies department, and it is something I really value.
Over my first year-and-a-bit studying Arabic I have particularly enjoyed the change from school language learning, where progress was slow and the language focused towards "getting-by". Instead, in Cambridge, the process is much more rewarding, if considerably more demanding, as the majority of the basics of grammar, and a substantial amount of vocabulary, are packed into the first three 8-week terms. This meant that last summer, after studying the language only a year, I was able to travel to Jordan, along with a group of my fellow Arabists, where we were able not only to admire the tourist attractions, but indeed to visit people's homes, have conversations, go to cafes off the beaten tourist track and really engage with Jordanian social and cultural life. Such a confidence in the spoken language is the direct result of weekly classes in colloquial Arabic - the aspect of my course I have found the most challenging, but equally which will, in practice, be most useful. Certainly, as I contemplate the options for my year abroad in the Middle East, I am increasingly grateful for all that preparation!"